Good or bad news, Jowers is fighting to win
Demaris Jowers sits near the fountain on the Circle after participating in the survivor group photo. Jowers, a breast cancer survivor, has a four-year-old son who inspires her to continue to get better.
Demaris Jowers says things happen for a reason; good or bad ... they happen for a reason.
So last October, when she did a self breast exam in the shower and felt a lump she didn't panic.
"It felt like a golf ball," she said.
It was the Saturday before Halloween 2011. Jowers called her boyfriend to come and check it too. After he felt the lump, he said they would call the doctor on Monday.
Demaris, who was 34 years old at the time, was born and raised in Williston. She moved away from Williston for a number of years after she married, but came back home after her divorce. She has a four-year-old son, Xander (Alexander).
The week of Halloween, Jowers went to the Bamberg Hospital for a mammogram. At 34, she was having a procedure done that her insurance and the American Cancer Society recommend women begin having at age 40.
She was sent to a specialist in Columbia, and the Monday after Thanksgiving she had a biopsy. "The doctor said he was 99 percent sure it was cancer before seeing the results," she said.
"I knew it was cancer; wasn't a doubt in my mind," Demaris said, "I wasn't scared when the doctor told me" it was cancer.
Her mother, Carolyn Jowers, and best friend, Nicole Householder, were with her when the doctor gave her the results. "My mother cried,' she said.
Demaris was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, and would have to begin chemotherapy. She went home but did not immediately tell her young son the news.
"To be 34 and hear I have cancer; ... I have a four-year-old who I want to see grow up," she said.
When she did tell Xander, she said it was very hard.
"I told him mommy was very sick," Demaris said.
But what her son told her was uplifting.
Xander said, "No Mommy, God gonna take care of you."
Demaris said her son's words gave her strength.
She was living with her boyfriend, who had two kids of his own. She said he became her biggest supporter throughout her treatment.
Her port-a-cath, the device inserted under the skin that connects to a vein so drugs can be infused, was put in Dec. 1. Demaris said the pain from having the port surgery was the worst part. "I slept in a recliner the first three nights with the port," she said.
Her chemotherapy treatment began Christmas week in Columbia. She would have six treatments in all, one every three weeks.
Chemotherapy is an all day process, Demaris said, but added the doctors and nurses working with her at South Carolina Oncology Associates were great. She also said since she got breast cancer at such a young age she gave strength to the older women receiving treatment.
"I lifted up the older ladies in treatment," Demaris said. The women would ask her, "How old are you, honey?"
Demaris tried to keep a positive attitude throughout her treatment. She worked at the Gingerbread Shoppe in Barnwell, which her mother owned, throughout the entire process. Her boyfriend, who works night shifts in Augusta, Ga., only missed one or two treatments, she said.
There were some scary moments, though. Like when she had an allergic reaction to the drugs during her second chemo treatment. Her throat closed up and her face became swollen. She couldn't breathe for a few seconds. But it only lasted a few moments, and Demaris actually got a laugh out of it.
"It was because my mom and sister had gone to lunch, and when they came back I was surrounded by nurses being helped," she said.
Demaris also said she lost the feeling in her hands and knees during chemotherapy, and that she didn't regain feeling until a month after the treatment ended.
What was particularly painful for her was losing her long, straight hair. She said she ended up crying for two or three hours before having it shaved. "You have that moment, and you get over it," she said.
Her last treatment was in early April of this year. And she got some good news; the doctor said he couldn't feel a lump.
She had her mastectomy surgery the third week of April. Doctors found no sign that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes or anywhere else.
With her 35th birthday approaching, her doctor delivered good news. On May 1, he told her she was cancer free. Her birthday is May 4.
Demaris said it was like a burden had been lifted.
"It was an early birthday present for me," she said.
She had three weeks of healing after the surgery and then began radiation treatment in Aiken.
Demaris said she got very tired during the final weeks of treatment as she would drive herself the 30 minutes each way to radiation in Aiken, which only lasted 15 minutes. She was also working. She said her son spent a lot of time at her parents' house, who live just around the corner from her, during the entire process.
Along the way, she had a couple of good "pity moments," but said she stayed strong. She said her boyfriend didn't show her any pity.
"I needed that" support, she said, "It would have been bad without" it.
Demaris tried to enjoy the summer months while undergoing radiation by spending a lot of time outside - but it was against the orders of her doctor. Eventually her doctor told her she had to stop going outside. Radiation treatment is a lot like a sun burn, so it's important that patients avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun, she said.
Another issue Demaris and other cancer patients experience is lack of appetite.
She said she had to fight to keep her appetite up during treatment. "I made myself eat," she said.
The hardest thing was getting enough fluids, she said. Although she became sick once or twice during treatments, her doctors told her she was very impressive throughout her whole ordeal.
"A lot of it is about your attitude," she said.
Demaris has been doing well since she finished radiation treatment in June, she said. She still gets tired after long days, and the chemo port is still installed. It will stay there for a while she said.
Because she was diagnosed with breast cancer at such a relatively young age, the chances that the cancer may come back are high.
She said her son sees the port and wants to know if she is still sick. She tells him, "Mommy has a long time to heal."
She said she got scared a while back about the cancer returning. She told her boyfriend, "I can't go through this again." He told her they would deal with it if it happened.
"No," she said, "I can't deal with this again."
Demaris said she is just beginning to get her life back, and that she is making up for lost time with her son. Her mother retired and closed the Gingerbread Shoppe in June, and Jowers has been out of work since. But she is making the most of it by spending time with Xander, she said.
Looking back on her experience, Demaris said she is thankful for the support she got from family and friends. She said she had "faith in God" that things would work out.
She said she wants to be able to help other women who get the disease. Women "can't be afraid of it," and they need to make sure they are taking care of themselves. She said cancer doesn't discriminate against age and encouraged women to be proactive.
"I wouldn't be alive if I wasn't doing self checks," Demaris said.
She is involved with the American Cancer Society in Barnwell County and is on the Relay for Life committee. She also said the "Look Good...Feel Better" organization for women going through chemotherapy is great. "It can really lift you up," she said.
Reflecting on all that she's been through, Demaris said it was all for a reason.
"God's gonna take me when it's my time to go," she said, "I wanna do what I can to be around long enough to see my son grow."
She said her son wants to play football for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and, not surprisingly, become a doctor.
"This mother is gonna make sure he does it," she said.
"He pushes me," Demaris said, "If (there is) nothing else in life to push me; ... he does."
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